Thinking Aloud: “Timbuktu”

Mar. 8, 2015 by Darius

Last night I saw the acclaimed French-Mauritanian film Timbuktu, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The film takes place in an unnamed town in the Sahel that has been taken over by an Islamist group.  Timbuktu largely lacks a cohesive plot.  Instead, many scenes show the ways the local population tries to adjust to and resist the harsh new laws the Islamists impose.  In my favorite scene of the movie, local youths play soccer without a ball, reduced to simulating passes, tackles, and shots because soccer was banned by the jihadists.

It wasn’t clear to me exactly what the message of Timbuktu is.  The Islamists are portrayed as hypocritical, brutally enforcing the letter of Sharia law when it suits them but never following its spirit.  For example, despite the fact that both smoking and soccer are banned, a jihadist commander smokes in secret, and jihadists discuss in detail their favorite European soccer teams.  People are arrested and flogged for playing music and singing, even though the music and song is in praise of Allah.  The only character who comes off looking good in Timbuktu is the local imam, who tries to defuse the jihadists theologically and shield the population from their excesses.

The cinematography in Timbuktu is artful and occasionally surreal and breathtaking.  However, the film’s clear French influence (i.e., lack of plot, just ending at a seemingly random point) detracted in my opinion.  While it was an interesting movie, I can’t say I actually liked it.  If you appreciate films as art, I would wholeheartedly recommend Timbuktu.  If not, though, there are better uses for two hours of time.  You could even search this blog for posts tagged “film” for some suggestions.

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